Back in January, the Obama Administration rejected six permit applications from companies seeking to use seismic testing to hunt for oil off our nation’s Eastern seaboard. The Trump Administration wants to revive those applications so petro-hunters can go thumping the sea floor for echoes of oil.
Greenpeace says seismic testing is bad for ocean critters:
These airguns use compressed air to generate intense pulses of sound 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. Their loud blasts are used on a recurring basis, going off every ten seconds, for 24 hours a day, often for weeks on end. They are so loud that they penetrate through the ocean and miles into the seafloor, then bounce back, bringing information to the surface about the location of buried oil and gas deposits.
Airgun blasts harm whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish. The types of impacts marine mammals may endure include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings, and even death. Seismic airguns could devastate marine life, harming fisheries and coastal economies along the Atlantic coast [Greenpeace, “Seismic and Sonar Testing,” retrieved 2017.05.15].
Some landowners in Fall River County, a fair distance from any sensitive whales and sea turtles, are hiring a private company to use seismic testing to look for oil and gas. John D. Taylor describes the process:
Seismic testing involves a large metal plate pushed down on top of the earth, through which are sent high-frequency vibrations, called seismic waves. The waves are created by either a dynamite blast or a specialized air gun. The waves bounce back (reflect or refract) in the rock strata, and are recorded by receivers known as geophones. Oil and gas geologists can “read” the seismographs generated by the testing unit to determine if there are pockets of oil or natural gas below. Think of it as something like using a fish finder [John D. Taylor, “Seismic Crews Want to Test up to 46,000 Acres Northwest of Provo for Oil and Gas,” Hot Springs Star, 2017.05.09].
U.S. Forest Service Hot Springs staffer Mike McNeil gave the Fall River County Commission a map showing the proposed seismic testing area around Provo, about eight miles south of Edgemont. The map, included in the commission’s May 2 agenda packet, bears the logo of Paragon Geophysical Services, Inc., a Wichita-based seismic testing company:
No whales on that map—what could possibly go wrong with pounding the ground with dynamite and air guns?
Did you notice “Black Hills Army Depot” written on that map? What’s out there?
The trenches were used to bury weapons, including chemical agents in containers, bombs and rockets, around BHAD, [Edgemont rancher Susan] Henderson said. This included M55 rockets.
A 1990s Congressional study showed that thousands of these rockets were filled with chemical agents. Today, some 50 -75 years after they were buried, a Sandia Labs study showed these rockets are destabilizing and could “auto ignite.” Also, when the temperature of the rocket rises above 55 degrees it can ignite. There have been multiple “blow-ups” of these rockets in other areas where the rockets were stored, she told the commissioners, worrying that seismic testing could set off a chain reaction of rockets in trenches.
Chemical warfare gas-filled rockets and bombs were also buried in bunkers, she said.
“There were hundreds of thousands of tons of chemical warfare agents stored or buried underground, 368,000 tons of Sarin alone” she said, “along with GB, VX, mustard gas, terrible Nazi stuff and secret stuff that no one knows about” [Taylor, 2017.05.09].
Terrible Nazi stuff? Among the numerous nefarious munitions listed in this BHAD inventory, one of the first disposed packages consisted of “Captured German Chemicals.”
Now I don’t think seismic testing is going to trigger Hydra’s Obelisk, but I can understand area ranchers’ concern that thumping the ground with dynamite could disturb some unexploded ordnance.
Then again, oil and gas exploration isn’t a new development in Fall River County. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources maps all sorts of oil and gas wells in the Edgemont-Provo area:
In 2016, Fall River County produced 17,928 barrels of oil, compared to 343 barrels in Custer County and 1,388,399 barrels in Harding County. DENR shows no marketed gas produced in Fall River County in 2016.
I don’t know of any wildcatters getting blown up in Fall River County yet, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful setting off dynamite and air guns near the old munitions dump. If seismic testing can upset whales, it can probably upset old, deteriorating, unexploded chemical weapons.